On Saturday 22 April 2017, one day before the first round of France’s presidential election, Natalie Nougayrède, a columnist, leader writer and foreign affairs commentator for The Guardian and previously executive editor and managing editor of Le Monde, one of the world’s most respected newspapers, penned an article whose headline betrays the usual combination of elite disdain, incomprehension and sheer cognitive dissonance:
France’s identity crisis: ‘People just don’t know what to think any more’
France goes to the polls on Sunday in a presidential election shaped by economic insecurity, cultural paranoia and terrorism. Natalie Nougayrède travels to the south-west and tries to make sense of the most important vote of her lifetime
As elsewhere across the West, however, millions of French people never signed up for globalisation involving the loss of their country’s identity, massive deindustrialisation, outsourcing – and their whole country being in lockdown for months due to attacks by Muslims on innocent French people.
As the old joke goes, “just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”
The wilful failure to understand Islam, Islamism and the long-term impact of massive immigration from the Maghreb on France and the rest of Europe when fundamentalism has been on the rise in the Muslim world for decades runs right through Nougayrède’s article.
And yet, Nougayrède implies that there is no identity crisis in Britain or the United States:
Much of what is at work resembles the trends that produced Brexit in Britain and Trump in the US – not least the disgruntlement of those who feel they have lost out to globalisation. But there are also specific, distinct elements of a collective French identity crisis.
The result? Once again, the centre is under huge pressure and, judging by the opinion polls, over 40% of the electorate is seeking refuge with the extreme left and right candidates Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen.
Pollsters say the first round is too close to call, but as with Trump last year, do not be surprised if Marine Le Pen gets more votes than forecast.
Whatever the outcome of the first and second rounds of France’s presidential elections, however, these problems – and the fury – will remain.
France’s famed elite of les énarques, probably the most elite of any western elite in its education, has failed, as elsewhere across the West.
As one of my acquaintances in France told me months ago, “the politicians have ruined this beautiful country.”